Are you looking for a natural way to support and protect the health of your liver? If so, milk thistle may be something worth exploring. Milk thistle is a herb used since ancient times that have been found to have multiple beneficial properties in supporting healthy liver functioning.
In recent years, it’s become one of the most popular supplements due to its potential as a herbal remedy for many common medical and health conditions related to the liver. Scientific evidence suggests that taking milk thistle can provide several health benefits related to your liver, including improved detoxification and other protective effects
But just what does milk thistle do exactly? This article will give insight into how milk thistle affects your liver and whether it’s viable for improving your overall health. So now, let’s get started.
Table of Contents
What is Milk Thistle?
Milk thistle is a herbal supplement derived from the milk thistle plant (Silybum marianum). Like sunflowers and daisies, the plant is a member of the Asteraceae family and originates in the Mediterranean.
The milky white fluid that drains from the crushed leaves of this medicinal plant is where the name comes from. The plant’s leaves have a milky white pattern all over them, as if they had been dipped in the liquid. It is often referred to as silybum, holy thistle, or St. Mary’s thistle.
Milk thistle is utilized for various purposes, from boosting milk production in nursing mothers to reducing appetite and hydrating the skin. Despite its wide range of possible advantages, it is best recognized as a natural liver booster. It is occasionally used to treat liver illnesses, including cirrhosis, jaundice, and hepatitis, as well as gallbladder issues.
The active ingredients in milk thistle are silymarin and silibinin, which have powerful antioxidant properties. It’s typically taken as a pill or tablet but can also be consumed as a tea or tincture. 
How Milk Thistle Supports Liver Health
Milk thistle’s key component, silymarin, is an antioxidant that blocks the formation of free radicals. Scientists believe this contributes to milk thistle’s detoxifying function, which is why it has shown promise in treating liver disorders. 
However, health professionals only advise milk thistle as the major treatment choice for liver disorders once further studies are conducted. Nonetheless, if your doctor recommends it, it might be a useful supplemental therapy.
There are several potential benefits milk thistle has on the liver. These include:
- Enhancing your body’s natural detoxification process by helping to flush out toxins, such as alcohol and drugs.
- Protecting healthy cells from damage caused by free radicals can lead to liver cirrhosis and other diseases.
- Reducing inflammation in the liver can help prevent further damage from occurring.
- Increasing bile acid production helps break down fat and aids digestion.
How Much Milk Thistle Should You Take?
The dosage of milk thistle you should take depends on several factors, such as your age, weight, and overall health. There is currently no established recommended dose for milk thistle. However, the typical recommended dose is 200-400 milligrams, taken two to three times daily. This dose should be taken for several weeks to maximize the effects of milk thistle on the liver. 
Most health food shops will have milk thistle in supplement form. However, there is no universally accepted dosage of milk thistle. Thus, it is important to follow the instructions on the label.
Milk thistle, when used for the liver, should be consumed at 150 mg once a day, three times a day. This is a somewhat strong dosage. However, it is effective as a detox for the liver.
Liver support and long-term usage need dosages between 50 and 150 mg daily.
Find a high-quality product with between 50 and 150 milligrams of pure milk thistle extract in each capsule, so you can tailor your dosage to your specific requirements.
When deciding on a supplement, it’s important to choose one with at least 80% pure milk thistle extract.
You may also drink milk thistle as tea. The recommended daily dose of milk thistle tea is no more than 6 cups. However, before starting any new supplement routine, you must talk to your doctor to determine your proper dosage.
How Long Should I Take Milk Thistle to Detox The Liver?
Milk thistle extract, in the form of capsules or tablets containing 250 to 750 mg of ethanol-extracted silymarin, is advertised as a treatment for many forms of liver disease. Depending on the individual, the recommended dose ranges from two to three times daily. 
Initial studies demonstrate that ingesting milk thistle extract for up to a year or a product combining the milk thistle ingredient silybin with phosphatidylcholine for one week improves liver function tests. However, other studies have shown no advantage.
How Long Does It Take for Milk Thistle to Work on Liver?
Milk thistle can take several days to weeks to start working on your liver. This is because there are two phases to the liver’s detoxification process. In the first step, passing enzymes are converted into free radicals.
Next, glutathione, an antioxidant, binds to free radicals. This facilitates the body’s natural elimination of harmful substances. A high glutathione level is essential for cell health, and silymarin aids in its regeneration and preservation. This, in turn, aids in liver detoxification.
Milk thistle usually takes several weeks to show any noticeable effects on your liver. Also, the effects of milk thistle may be cumulative, meaning it needs to be taken over some time to optimize its benefits.
What are the Side Effects of Milk Thistle?
Though milk thistle is generally considered safe, some potential side effects exist. These include nausea, bloating, diarrhea, and an allergic reaction in some people.
Also, some may get allergic reactions to milk thistle.  Since milk thistle is known to lower blood sugar levels, people with diabetes should exercise caution while taking the supplement.
It’s important to talk with your doctor before adding milk thistle as a supplement, especially if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or have any underlying health conditions. If you experience any adverse effects while taking milk thistle, stop taking the supplement and consult with your doctor immediately.
Are There Risks in Taking Milk Thistle?
Milk thistle, like any other natural medicine, should be discussed with a doctor before use. However, since milk thistle falls under the category of a dietary supplement rather than a pharmaceutical product, the FDA does not place the same strict requirements on it as it does on pharmaceuticals.
That’s why it’s important to read labels carefully since the number of active chemicals in one dosage may differ from the amount indicated on the label. Because of this, always get milk thistle from reliable sources.
There is some evidence that milk thistle interacts negatively with anticancer drugs and radiation therapy. Furthermore, it may have estrogen-like actions in the body. If a person is currently undergoing treatment for a certain kind of cancer or a liver ailment, this is a particularly concerning fact to consider.
Bottomline: How Does Milk Thistle Affect the Liver?
While milk thistle is most commonly known for its liver-boosting properties, its key component, silymarin, is an antioxidant that blocks the formation of free radicals. It has shown promise in treating liver disorders. However, milk thistle is still considered a dietary supplement and has not been evaluated or approved by the FDA.
If you’re interested in using milk thistle for potential benefits, consult your doctor first.
Disclaimer: This article is only a guide. It does not substitute the advice given by your healthcare professional. Before making any health-related decision, consult your healthcare professional.
Editorial References And Fact-Checking
- Gillessen A, Schmidt HH. Silymarin as Supportive Treatment in Liver Diseases: A Narrative Review. Adv Ther. 2020 Apr;37(4):1279-1301. doi: 10.1007/s12325-020-01251-y. Epub 2020 Feb 17. PMID: 32065376; PMCID: PMC7140758.
- C Mulrow, V Lawrence, B Jacobs, C Dennehy, J Sapp, G Ramirez, C Aguilar, K Montgomery, L Morbidoni, JM Arterburn, E Chiquette, M Harris, D Mullins, A Vickers, and K Flora. Milk Thistle: Effects on Liver Disease and Cirrhosis and Clinical Adverse Effects: Summary. Rockville (MD): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US); 1998-2005.
- Karimi G, Vahabzadeh M, Lari P, Rashedinia M, Moshiri M. “Silymarin”, a promising pharmacological agent for treatment of diseases. Iran J Basic Med Sci. 2011 Jul;14(4):308-17. PMID: 23492971; PMCID: PMC3586829.
- Wojas, O., Krzych-Fałta, E., Samel-Kowalik, P. et al. A case of allergy to Silybum marianum (milk thistle) and Eragrostis tef (teff). Allergy Asthma Clin Immunol 16, 23 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13223-020-00421-5